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“Godcasts” Hot New Tools of Evangelism

Feb 2, 2006 8:00 AM

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Next time you see someone on the street with those tiny earphones linked to a miniature device on a belt clip, don’t be too quick to assume they’re listening to the latest from the Black Eyed Peas.

Chances are good it’s actually a sermon. The Word has gone mobile recently, fueled by (and actually driving) the phenomenal growth of podcasting—distributing programs directly to personal digital music players, computers, and other devices.

It’s estimated that 75 percent of all owners of digital music devices will be using them to receive podcasts by 2010, and the podcasting audience could approach 60 million people by then, according to The Diffusion Group.

Podcasting may be the hottest tech trend of the day, and some observers say religious podcasting—“Godcasting”—is the biggest piece of this booming enterprise.

The San Diego-based “Godcast Network,” launched in 2004, is credited with coining the term “Godcasting,” and the practice has certainly caught on. Last spring, reported that sermons and similar religious programs were the most in-demand content for downloading to MP3 players and computers.

“Go to the iTunes online music store and see the sheer number of religious podcasts there,” suggests Shane Anderson, who runs “God’s iPod” in Auckland, New Zealand. Anderson launched his own series of podcasts last year. “Within a few days, we had more than 600 people subscribed to my New Testament podcasts, and now we’re more than doubling every month.”

The Roman Catholic Church, not usually noted for using multimedia, projection, and other tools, has actually been out front in adopting podcasts, with Vatican Radio launching its service in July 2005. Catholic Insider, a podcast series by Dutch priest Roderick Vonhögen, claims 10,000 to 15,000 weekly listeners.

“The Catholics have surprised a lot of people, including me, when we look at the sheer number of Catholic podcasts out there,” Anderson says.

Equally striking to Anderson, though, is the relative absence of the familiar mega-churches from the ranks of the most popular podcasts. “Most of the huge ministries are not podcasting,” Anderson says. “They are being outdone by tiny fellowships that are getting their messages online for people to hear.”

Jonathan Turner of Pitts Baptist Church in Concord, N.H., says "[A series of podcasts] just sort of grew naturally out of our weekly taping of services for our shut-ins.”

At first, these audio files were posted to the church website for downloading. When podcasting appeared on the scene, it seemed like a natural next step. “Now I believe we get hits from all over the world on our webpage and podcast,” Turner says.

Podcasting isn’t very difficult to do, Anderson notes. Any church that’s already recording audio can adapt its operations to podcasting fairly easily. The key is to master the necessary XML, or Extensible Markup Language, the programming tool that enables people to search, locate, and download programs to their personal digital devices.

Unfortunately, Anderson says, there’s no one software suite available yet that will handle all aspects of podcast production the way other suites handle photos or web page design. But a package of off-the-shelf software for different functions is easy and inexpensive to assemble, Anderson says.

"Podcasting," he adds, “is so much in its infancy right now that nobody can predict where it might go.”

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